Following the 2015-16 season, it became evident the Flames needed a new coach. It wasn’t just because they had been in the playoffs the year before, and failed to make it this past season – it was because Bob Hartley, who had been hired under the previous regime before the lockout in 2012, had taken the Flames as far as he could.
There was a semblance of year-to-year growth as Hartley inherited a suddenly-rebuilding team, and the futures of the franchise – the Sean Monahans, the Johnny Gaudreaus – learned how to play under him. But without overall notable improvement, it was time to move on.
The situation wasn’t that unique to Hartley and the Flames. Often times, rebuilding teams don’t stick with the same coach: they have one guy at the helm for the beginning, until inevitably, they have to move on. It happened to the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings en route to multiple Stanley Cups; a coaching change even brought the Pittsburgh Penguins their fourth Cup in franchise history just this season.
To that end, the Flames are expected to name their replacement in mere hours: Glen Gulutzan, the former head coach of the Dallas Stars, and most recently, assistant coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
Hartley brought a spark of life back to the Flames: but there’s only so far that spark can take a team. Eventually, messages wear thin; eventually, it’s time to move on.
There was a key difference in philosophy within the organization. Hartley stressed a blue collar game, complete with grit and shot-blocking; General Manager Brad Treliving stressed a puck possession game. He even brought in Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik the off-season before to address the style of play he wanted – and while the Flames’ overall corsi did go up, the new acquisitions likely did not receive sufficient utilization, and it’s possible the Flames were prevented from being as good as they could have been due to opposing philosophies (and goaltending. Goaltending was very bad).
Treliving did not hire Hartley, but he kept him on board for the first two seasons of his tenure, including an extension the year he won the Jack Adams. It was best to move on in the off-season, though: if internal philosophies are so opposing, then a 10 or 20-game tryout to start the next season and “see how things go” wouldn’t have done anybody any good. The Flames are not the Penguins; they do not have the raw talent available to make up for a poor start to a season.
Why start behind the eight-ball when you can start clean and fresh?
A young coach for a young team
Not much word got out during the Flames hiring process, but a name did keep popping up: Gulutzan. We were told to not look for a big name (no Bruce Boudreaus to be found here), and not even necessarily experience – just someone the organization felt would be able to achieve the playing style they wanted.
Outside of his first few months, Treliving hasn’t made many missteps with the Flames. So if Gulutzan is his guy, there must be damn good reason for it – and fair reason to be optimistic about the coming season, and how the Flames will be playing to start the new year.
Gulutzan is only 44 years old. He’s young by NHL coaching standards; only Detroit’s Jeff Blashill and New Jersey’s John Hynes are younger. (Ottawa’s Guy Boucher is older by nine days.) This is fitting, because the major players on Gulutzan’s new team are all pretty young themselves: Mark Giordano is the only impact player on the Flames older than 30.
The Flames are looking for someone to grow with them through the next stage of their rebuild. Gulutzan is a fit: he’s young, and while he’s had a bit of coaching experience at the NHL level earlier this decade, he’s someone who’s had to do a fair bit of growing himself. He’s also a teacher, and who better to bring a youthful team to the next level?
Hopefully, Gulutzan’s results on the ice will reward this off-season’s coaching search.